by George Pendergrass, Associate Director
George and Pamela Pendergrass are Frontier Fellowship’s newest Associate Directors. They are passionate about mobilizing churches of color in the US to engage in new ways with frontier mission. George shares here a bit about their experience as Black leaders in mission.
Our airplane touched down on the continent of Africa, where we were greeted with joyous songs of welcome and bright colors celebrating our arrival. Yet in the midst of this incredibly warm welcome, I was keenly aware of a constant undercurrent: apartheid. That trip in 1991 to South Africa with Acappella* marked my journey as a Black American with a mission to share the Good News of Jesus on frontiers worldwide, and it stirred a cascade of deep emotions within.
Today, I am mindful of a powerful reality: there are huge benefits to having shared experiences as a person of color in the US that are common to many people of color around the world.
Fast-forward to 2000. Our group of 12 African Americans had come to help with famine relief on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. As we sat on wooden benches in the small, dusty village, we were introduced to a tradition completely unfamiliar to any of us. Our hosts took a bowl of water and told us to wash our hands, and then served us special portions of chicken, rice and a purple root-like vegetable. They explained that they could never afford to eat such a lavish meal themselves. Offering this meal to us was a sign of the grace, blessing and prosperity that would come to them.
We had barely gotten our food down before they all lined up to touch our faces. Many of them had been intently watching us since we entered their village; and now they began walking up to touch our faces. The leader explained to us that these villagers had never seen African Americans—and the last time they saw people who resembled us physically was “when their former relatives were taken.” He explained that they believe bone structures never change, and by touching our faces it helped determine how much of their grandparents and great grandparents they could see in us. We were all moved to tears as we embraced. As we fed the hungry, the unexpected lesson we learned was just how much our own souls were being fed.
Fast-forward again: Egypt. We entered the airport and noticed it the minute we met. There was something different in their eyes, something not verbalized. In our caravan of 15, only two of us were African American, which made us stand out. But it went deeper than that. It was the look of familiarity, an instant sense of relatability, almost as if we were compatriots. Where did it come from? We’d never even been to Egypt or anywhere in the Middle East! What was it that seemed to give us this shared bond?
I could not answer that question until the day they looked at my wife and me, and simply asked, “Where are our brothers and sisters and how are they faring?” Only then did it hit me: we’ve shared the same struggles. We intuitively understood their journey and related to their story. We speak a common language—the language of color. It is a language that comes with many nuances and is understood through the crucible of common experience.
To bring much needed change to frontier mission, we need to first change our own mental models. We start by embracing a powerful truth: our struggles become our strengths and our knowledge of marginalization becomes a blessing, not a curse. More than two billion unreached people worldwide still need to see others who intuitively relate to their shared story.
“We hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done.” Acts 2:11
*Acappella is an award-winning ensemble based in Nashville, Tennessee. George was a lead singer, co-produced several albums and had the honor of working on projects with a wide range of artists including U2, Vanessa Williams and Amy Grant.